Protecting student safety has been the rationale behind the recent spate of laws restricting teachers' and students' communication via social networking. The laws call into into question once again the educational value of these sorts of online social tools: Why do teachers need to talk to students on Facebook? Shouldn't students be studying? Isn't Facebook just a waste of time?
There are many arguments for using social media in education. (For example, here are 50 reasons to allow Facebook in your classroom.) One of the most powerful arguments is simply because Facebook is, and has been since its creation, a Web site that students want to use. Remember, though its audience has exploded to 750 million, Facebook was created exclusively for college students.
The question is: how to leverage Facebook for learning purposes? There are a number of new tools that aim to blend social and studying aspects. One of them is Hoot.me, a Facebook application that turns the social networking site into "study mode."
Like other Facebook apps, Hoot.me keeps you inside Facebook but moves you away from your wall and news feed. Instead of the typical Facebook prompt, "What's on your mind?" Hoot.me asks its users "What are you working on?" From there, students can join the live study sessions on that topic.
These sessions can use group video-conferencing, which Facebook itself doesn't yet offer, as well as the "smart chat" function. Smart chat allows you to type mathematical formulas in English, which are then automatically translated into mathematical notation. A screen-sharing option is coming soon, too.